Trapattoni confident for play-offs
Giovanni Trapattoni is confident no-one will relish being drawn against his Republic of Ireland team in the World Cup play-offs after their near miss against holders Italy.
The Irish came within three minutes of defeating the reigning champions at Croke Park last night and sending the race for automatic qualification from Group Eight to the final round of matches on Wednesday.
However, Alberto Gilardino's last-minute strike ensured the Italians booked their place in next summer's finals and sent Ireland into the lottery of the play-offs next month.
There, they will face one of the four seeded sides among the eight best second-placed teams - the field seems likely to be made up of France, Russia, Portugal and Greece - in yet another stern test of their credentials.
However, Trapattoni believes that their progress in the last year or so means they can no longer be regarded as one of European football's lesser lights.
Asked for his preference in next Monday's draw, he said with a smile: "The preference is a team we can beat.
"They are all strong teams, but we have to accept what the draw brings. But we have to think we have played against Italy and drawn twice. In Bari, it was 10 v 11 and they had an excuse; last night, they didn't have an excuse.
"We must not be presumptuous, but with this attitude, we can have confidence about our next opponents. They are all important, famous teams, but we have also now in Europe and the world become a famous team, and we must believe that."
Indeed, Trapattoni believes Ireland's strong showing in qualification has not come as a surprise around the world.
He said: "I have read international newspapers, not only in Italy, but in many countries, and they say Ireland are not a surprise. We have a good team, we have good players and Ireland, for me, are not a surprise."
The Italian, as is his wont, was quick to take the positives from last night's 2-2 draw after expressing his disappointment at the negatives in the immediate aftermath of a dramatic conclusion to the game.
His side twice led, through Glenn Whelan's eighth-minute opener and Sean St Ledger's header three minutes from time.
However, the classy Italians hit back on both occasions, Mauro Camoranesi levelling after 26 minutes and then Gilardino denying the home side victory at the death.
The last-gasp equaliser came after the Republic had conceded the ball deep inside Italian territory, and the mercurial Andrea Pirlo picked out Vincenzo Iaquinta with unerring accuracy to set up the goalscorer.
Trapattoni said: "In my opinion, it was a good game for both teams. It was a pity - twice we were in the lead and conceded a goal. But the result for me was fair. Shay Given didn't have any great saves to make, but Italy made fewer mistakes than us with their passing.
"We made too many mistakes with our passing - the second goal was from our mistake - but that is the negative. We were in front against the world champions with three minutes to go and we were a little bit nervous. But the positive is our performance, and that we have not lost a game in the group.
"Ireland in the past has played in the play-offs and I hope like the last time we can achieve qualification."
Victory over Iran ultimately sent the Republic to the 2002 finals, but the task is certain to be far tougher this time around and that, coupled with the fact that they have won only one of the five play-off ties they have contested over the years, is keeping feet firmly on the ground.
However, in the meantime, they will return to action against Montenegro on Wednesday determined to finish the group unbeaten.
Winger Damien Duff, who missed out last night with a calf injury, was back in training today and could figure, although Whelan is suspended after collecting a second booking, and Trapattoni could decide to rest some of the other five members of his current squad currently on yellow cards.
Keeper Shay Given, who like Kevin Kilbane would complete 100 senior international caps if selected, is one of them, but his manager would not be unduly concerned about playing him.
He said: "If a goalkeeper doesn't talk too much, he shouldn't have a problem."